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NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Southern Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

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Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews: Running Back

Another year, another good crop of running backs in C-USA.

We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by looking at the running back position. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”

To elaborate on the grades, “We’ll See” means exactly what it means. We have no idea if that position is going to turn out to be a plus due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.

“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an All-C-USA Team.

“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You obviously want your team to be here.

Great Shape

1. UAB: For two years, Spencer Brown has proven to be the bell-cow for UAB’s rushing attack. Last season Brown had 16 rushing touchdowns, a school record. Brown enters his junior season with 2,556 rushing yards and 27 total touchdowns. Brown needs only 261 yards to become the career rushing leader at UAB. Something to watch for: The Blazers must replace four starters on their offensive line this season. Although Brown played in more games, and had his workload increase, his rushing yards and yards per carry actually took a slight dip in 2018.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Tennessee
Benny LeMay averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season and is a senior leader for the 49ers.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

2. Charlotte: Conference USA’s best kept secret at RB, Benny LeMay has been one of the few bright spots for Charlotte over the past few years. In 2018 LeMay made second-team All-C-USA with 1,228 yards and 11 touchdowns. LeMay has rushed for 2,150 in his career with poor to below average Charlotte passing attacks. If the 49ers are able to generate even a respectable passing offense in 2019, LeMay could lead C-USA in rushing yards this season.

3. Marshall: Last season Marshall’s rushing attack relied on Keion Davis, Anthony Anderson, Tyler King and Brenden Knox, and they rushed for 2,152 yards, fourth-best in C-USA. Davis and Anderson have graduated, but King and Knox (the two leading rushers from 2018) return to give the Herd a potent rushing offense. Both running backs averaged six yards per carry last season. King has the higher ceiling between the two and if he stays healthy in 2019, his name will appear on an all-conference team.

4. North Texas: Despite the reputation of a pass-first offense, UNT has received great production from their RBs under head Seth Littrell and 2019 should be no different. Last season the quartet of DeAndre Torrey, Loren Easly, Nic Smith, and Anthony Wyche guided UNT to 1,999 rushing yards. They combined for 5.5 yards per carry. DeAndre Torrey rushed for a team-high 15 touchdowns and should be the feature back once again in 2019.

5. FIU: The Panthers are similar to UNT and Marshall in that the depth they possess at RB makes up for the fact that they don’t have a clear workhorse at the position. Napoleon Maxwell, Shawnderrius Phillips, D’Vonte Price, and Anthony Jones combined for 1,974 yards and 22 touchdowns. All four RBs are slated to return. While those numbers are nothing to scoff at, more consistency from this group is needed. On a down-to-down basis, FIU’s RBs were either running for big gains or getting tackled at the line. The Panthers ranked 9th in rushing marginal explosiveness but 117th in rushing marginal efficiency.

Good Shape

6. Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs were a middle of the pack rushing team in C-USA last season. Jaqwis Dancy and Israel Tucker rushed for a combined 1,044 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not horrible, but not spectacular either. Dancy averaged over five yards per carry and projects to be the lead back in 2019.

7. UTEP: The Miners only rushed for 123.7 yards per game last season. Based on the previous stat, they shouldn’t be in this group. Allow me to make the case for why they belong. There’s actually good talent here! Quardraiz Wadley and Treyvon Hughes combined for 947 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018. Both will return for their senior seasons. While Wadley and Hughes provide a solid foundation, incoming three-star recruit Deion Hankins, from El Paso, is the one who elevates the position. Hankins held offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State and North Texas. He’s the best recruit in what’s been classified as UTEP’s best recruiting class in a decade. If he’s able to contribute, look for UTEP to improve their rushing numbers.

8. Middle Tennessee: Due to the pass-happy nature of offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, MTSU is unlikely to have gaudy rushing stats. Chaton Mobley returns after leading the team with 660 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman. I’m not sure whether Brad Anderson technically counts as a RB, but considering that he averaged over five yards per carry before suffering a season-ending injury, I’m including him here anyway.

9. WKU: The Tops had a disappointing offense in 2018 but it was through no fault of Joshua Samuel. As a freshman, Samuel rushed for a team-high 641 yards. The backups are largely unknown three-star recruits aside from Jakairi Moses. Moses rushed for 268 and two touchdowns as a freshman but missed all of 2018 with an injury.

We’ll See

10. FAU: The Owls will undergo a full reset here as the face of the program, Devin Singletary, and specialist extraordinaire Kerrith Whyte Jr., are now both in the NFL. Former Alabama running back BJ Emmons is eligible after sitting out 2018 as a transfer last season. Between Emmons, James Charles, Tyrek Tisdale, and Daniel Leconte, there is a good collection of talent here, but all backs are unproven.

11. Old Dominion: Kesean Strong and Matt Geiger combined to rush for 711 yards and two touchdowns last season. Strong is the feature back and is expected to take on a larger role in the offense with Jeremy Cox’s departure. Strong averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season. An 1,000 yard season isn’t out of the question for Strong.

12. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles had one of the worst rushing offenses in the conference last season as they leaned heavily on freshmen running backs. Trivenskey Mosley and Steven Anderson both return after rushing for a combined 812 yards and seven touchdowns. Mosley was more of the every down back while Anderson thrived in short yardage situations, particularly near the goal line.

Old Dominion v Rice
Juma Otoviano was the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week after setting a school record for rushing yards as a freshman, with 224 yards against Old Dominion.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

13. Rice: Last year’s top two rushers, Austin Walter and Emmanuel Esukpa, have graduated. There is a bunch of carries to be had under head coach Mike Bloomgren’s run-first offense. My guess is sophomore Juma Otoviano will get the call as the lead back in 2019. Last season Otoviano exploded for 224 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Old Dominion but saw the field sparingly in 2018 aside from the contest against ODU.

14. UTSA: The Roadrunners averaged a conference-worst, 87.7 rushing yards per game last season. Former three-star recruits B.J. Daniels and Brenden Brady return from last year but a reset here probably wouldn’t be a bad thing considering the lack of production. Daniels has talent but it’s hard to be given the benefit of the doubt after such a disappointing season.

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